You may have heard: Boise State is going dancing (again).
After making the NCAA Tournament last season, the Broncos earned back-to-back entires into the tournament for just the second time in program history. Boise State, though, has still yet to win a game in March Madness.
A 10-seed, Boise State will face off against 7-seed Northwestern on Thursday in Sacramento. The game will tip off at 5:35 MT and air on truTV.
Those are some facts. Here are some thoughts.
1. Let’s separate fact from fiction.
— A win would change the narrative around Leon Rice. FACT. Rice has long been thought of as a really good coach. But you know what? There are a ton of really good coaches in America. There are very few that have won an NCAA Tournament game. A win would give Rice notoriety outside of just the Mountain West markets — which would be good for recruiting and maybe not so good if a school comes calling.
— A win would be Boise State basketball’s Fiesta Bowl equivalent? FICTION. There is a misnomer that making the field or even winning one game in the NCAA Tournament does something to boost a school’s perception and admissions. It’s just not true. Well, unless Cinderella makes a wild Elite 8 run (Like Saint Peter’s last year) or a Final Four run (like George Mason or Butler). Otherwise, it’s just a nice accomplishment. But it could be like the Fiesta Bowl for one reason. Before that Fiesta Bowl, most of the country thought of Boise State as the school with the blue field. That game made people realize the Broncos had a heck of a football team, too. Right now, a few million people are filling out their bracket, looking at Boise State and thinking it’s only a football school. A win and more of the country comes around to the notion that the Broncos have a heck of a basketball team, too.
— Northwestern was about the best draw BSU could have hoped for. FACT. Northwestern is a good team. The Wildcats went 21-11 playing in the best conference in the country. But, also, Northwestern is KenPom’s 42nd-ranked team. Let’s compare that to some other similar-seeded teams. No. 7-seeds: Texas A&M (25), Michigan State (32) and Missouri (51). No. 8-seeds: Memphis (19), Arkansas (20), Maryland (22) and Iowa (37). Aside from Missouri (which Utah State gets to play), it’s hard to make an argument that Boise State could have had a better draw.
— Boise State should win with ease: FICTION. Boise State may very well win this game. I’m not saying that. But, based on social media (which is a dumb barometer), I’ve sensed a ton of confidence from Broncos’ fans. Which is great — but don’t discount the Wildcats. They have two guards — Boo Buie (17.1 ppg) and Chase Audige (13.8) — who combine to average over 30 points. They have a 7-foot center in Matthew Nicholson. They have a coach in Chris Collins who has an NCAA Tournament win. They’ve been more battle-tested than Boise State. They have just as good of a defense, statistically, as the Broncos. Boise State might win on Thursday, but I’d bet on a nailbiter.
2. Boise State could buck a ton of trends with a win.
History says that Boise State loses to Northwestern. Here’s why:
— Boise State has never won a game in the NCAA Tournament. The Broncos are 0-8 all time. They are 0-3 under Rice with losses against La Salle (2013) and Dayton (2015) in the First Four and an 11-point defeat against Memphis last season.
— Boise State has never beaten a Big 10 team (thanks to our columnist Mike Prater for that stat). The Broncos are 0-9 all-time. And, yes, judging a team by their conference is silly (especially with conferences currently purging each other), but I thought it was interesting for this reason: The Broncos haven’t played a Big 10 team in six years. You’d think some preseason tournament or creative scheduling would have pitted the Broncos against Iowa or Nebraska or someone.
— The Mountain West is really bad in the NCAA Tournament. Now, Boise State wouldn’t completely buck the trend with a win, but it would help. Just including the schools currently in the conference (Sorry BYU and Utah), the Mountain West is 15-41 all time in the tourney. Only three current MW teams have ever made a Sweet Sixteen: San Diego State (‘11 and ‘14), Nevada (‘18) and UNLV ('07). And just last season, the conference was embarrassed, going 0-4 with Colorado State and SDSU blowing huge leads.
— Boise State has never won an NCAA Tournament game in Sacramento. Yes, this is a joke. But BSU actually played a tournament game there in 1994. The 14-seed Broncos lost by nine to 3-seed Louisville. Boise State forward Shambric Williams scored a game-high 21.
3. I really think losing in the Mountain West Tournament could help BSU.
So, I wouldn’t say Boise State is limping into the NCAA Tournament, but the Broncos definitely aren’t on a heater. They’ve lost three of their last five, including a pair of defeats at the hands of Utah State.
The Broncos are not built for a deep run in any tournament. They simply don’t have the depth. Boise State basically plays just seven guys and all of its starters log over 28 minutes. That’s a lot of wear and tear.
You saw it in the second half of the Broncos’ MW Tourney loss to Utah State in Vegas. They looked gassed. Numerous guys said they were just shooting with their arms because their legs were so tired. The same thing happened in the NCAA Tournament defeat to Memphis last season. The Broncos looked beat in the second half.
Which brings us to Thursday’s game. Boise State will be, if nothing else, rested — or as rested as one can be. After losing on Friday night, the Broncos flew back to Boise on Saturday. If they had won that game, they would have had to play 15 hours later against probably the most physically-taxing team in the Mountain West, San Diego State.
By losing, Boise State maximized its potential for the NCAA Tournament. More rest. More recovery. More scouting. It’ll all be worth it with a win.